They say that after the storm there is always calm and this happened after being on the verge of death in 98. The change came to the official Yamaha team. But this was not going to be the only novelty in the medium term. The four times of MotoGP were knocking on the door.
I needed a change of air after everything that happened in 1998 and the change came as a hurricane air that raised me to the top of the category. I joined the official Yamaha team; A spectacular structure with a historic and prestigious sponsor like Marlboro, a teammate like Max Biaggi and my good and appreciated friend Wayne Rainey as top manager. Mike Webb, the current MotoGP Race Director was the technical manager of my motorcycles and the entire team was Anglo-Saxon. In fact, they didn't let me incorporate anyone I trust, but they were all great professionals. The first year was recovery, adaptation and integration. I was coming out of the post-Donington shield hole, the bike didn't make it easy for me or Max, and there were many falls. I started the season, with a second place in Sepang, but it was a complicated and hard-working year whose fruits we would pick up the next season.
On May 26, 2000, at the conclusion of the sixth Grand Prix of the season played in Mugello, I was the new leader of the 500cc World Championship! In six major prizes he had accumulated four second positions. The truth is that the thing was twisted at the end because the wear and tear took its toll and I ended up moving away from the fight for a title that I had felt deserving or, at least a firm candidate during the first half of the season. Without a doubt, it was the year he could have won the Championship.
The next season was already the last of the 500cc motorcycles. We all had the head in the four times and the new category and this was reflected on the track with an irregular year that led to three podium climbs. In Brno we tried the MotoGP Yamaha which I thought was very powerful but still very basic. We had to work a lot on the rear train and its tire due to the greater power and perfectly understand how to optimize electronic management, a very open terrain and with a greater margin of development. What was clear is that there was potential and a long way to go that had nothing to do with both times and the 500cc.
For the first season of the “fat bikes” that instead of whistling, snoring, you can count as a Chief Mechanic with a very good friend and professional, Antonio Jimenez. We were waiting for an exciting, intense year and that I would start fighting for the “pole” in Japan and finishing with a third place a weekend in Suzuka that I started 4 seconds of the fastest and telling Antonio: “If I try to go faster , I hit it! ” At that point it was already clear that the Honda had much more work behind its back and was a more competitive motorcycle, but, the truth is that we defended very well on a good number of occasions climbing the podium three times more and achieving the pole in Portugal. New changes were made every weekend and there were different evolutions, so we sometimes lost the way of tuning. Our work accumulated, but at the same time it was exciting to grow the motorcycle from race to race.
Max Biaggi left in 2003. Marco Melandri arrived and the year was marked by the intensification of the tuning work, the obvious improvement of the motorcycle and the lack of constancy despite being ahead in a good handful of occasions.
But, undoubtedly, that season was marked for everyone and, of course, for me, for the death of Daijiro Kato in Suzuka. Kenny Roberts Jr. just passed me and rolled with the Japanese in front of me, when shortly before I reached the chicane, he lost control of the rear wheel of his motorcycle, changed direction and went against the base of the wall of concrete. It was a tragedy that I lived from very close and that, without a doubt, left a terrible mark on us all.
After the end of the 2004 financial year, the great change of the category has arrived so far. Valentino Rossi joined Yamaha by sharing equipment with me and the brand greatly reinforced his competition department. To share a box with him, what surprised me most was his great ability to always give something else. For me, it was a lesson about the limits and the importance of the pilot in this aspect to make a difference outside the technology. A pole and a podium were my best rewards.